Group Blog #1

Florianopolis Travel Blog

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By: Mary Beth, Brent, and Dillon

Since 1980, the number of Protestants in Brazil and Argentina has grown impressively. The Catholic Church, in Brazil particularly and to a much lesser degree in Argentina, is full of religious syncretism. Many of the churchgoers have blended African rooted religions with their Christianity. As a result, many people have lost faith in the Catholic Church.

Many Brazilian Protestants consider the Brazilian Catholic Church to be a perversion of Christianity. This feeds their fervor to constantly convert Catholics to Protestantism. This is completely different from the Protestant Churches of the United States who generally accept Catholics as valid Christians. The leaders of Protestant churches in Brazil are charismatic speakers that often control large groups of people, and therefore, large amounts of resources. The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, based in Brazil, has a major national television channel, 30 radio stations, 2 newspapers, and a magazine. The church has also expanded its media empire outside of Brazil. These resources are a powerful medium for outreach.

Another prominent Protestant church in Brazil is the Assembly of God. The Assembly started in Springfield, Missouri in 1922 as a fellowship of Pentecostal churches. They have a strong presence in the United States, as well as Brazil. There is no central leadership (there is a national headquarters in the United States that has no direct leadership role over the individual congregations). The large body of associated churches is a powerful resource base with approximately 52.5 million members worldwide. The Catholic Church is not known for its dynamic nature. With the rigorous perseverance to convert Catholics in Brazil and Argentina it is not surprising to have a significant number of converts.

Activist Catholic Parishes are not without stories of converting large numbers of people back to Catholicism. However, with far fewer Catholic churches than Protestant ones submitting the great deal of effort put into conversion, it is not surprising that Protestantism is growing. Many of the conversions from Catholicism are to Pentecostal Churches that have extremely high moral and legalistic standards. This may feel comfortable to Catholics that are used to very firm rules of morality in the Catholic Church. For others, the extremely conservative Pentecostal churches may give them a higher sense of moral adherence than they had experienced in the Catholic Church because of the great number of Catholics that practice very lax adherence to Catholic rules. These Pentecostal churches, even with strict rules, generally have a much greater level of energy and passion during a service or within a congregation than exhibited in the typical Catholic mass or congregation.

There are also much more morally liberal Protestant churches. These most likely have the highest conversion rate of Catholics that are tired of the excessive rules of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church does not allow certain issues, such as contraception. These same issues may or may not be allowed by a strict Protestant church but would most certainly be allowed in a liberal one. That fact alone could cause many people to convert.

The Protestant churches have many tools that they use to attract new members. The above mentioned media influence of churches, such as the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, are an example. Many Protestant churches have dance and drama programs for their youth and, sometimes, adults. These dance and drama programs' members often perform outside of the church in public places, such as schools and universities. Many Protestant Churches have social programs to help the community. Some churches offer free or very cheap schooling, as opposed to expensive Catholic schools that can only be attended by the very wealthy. In some areas there is no public school for children to attend. When a Protestant Church steps in and offers education, it is greatly appreciated and respected by the community. Some churches also have education programs for adults as well. They offer programs to teach adults modern scientific techniques for farming that can be accomplished with very little resources. This can be very useful in overpopulated urban areas where the job market is stagnate and can't begin to accommodate the number of unemployed. Protestant Churches offer a full range of services to the public that would likely be unavailable or unattainable, because of price, to the general public.

When attempting to sell their ideas, Protestant churches in Brazil and Argentina often use promises of healing. Two major selling points of the Protestants are curing of personal illness or injury and overcoming of vices. Both are often done by expulsion of demons. Pentecostal churches believe that the bad in one’s life is due to demons. To overcome one's own illnesses and vices, the demons must be exorcized and the individual must live a pious life doing whatever work the church bestows upon them to keep the demons away. The Protestant churches are forgiving of sins prior to one's "saving," which is conversion from any faith other than protestant Christianity. However, once a person is a member of the church, very little faltering, if any, is considered acceptable. For instance, in some of the Protestant churches, it is not allowed for males to pierce their bodies. New piercings after having accepted Jesus into one’s life and having been "saved" are strongly looked down upon by many and can be bitterly resented.

Some churches have specific methods for conversion that they believe is the way to Christ. For instance, one specific eccentric church has a very lengthy and ritualized method of conversion. First, a member of the church prays for three people of the same sex for three months. After the three months they continue to pray for the people but also begin inviting them to church events, such as Sunday services or the personal small group that they lead. Eventually the individual is invited to go to a church retreat that the majority of the church has already been on. This retreat is a kind of right of passage to become a member of the church. On this retreat, people are in a secluded area where they receive systematic sermons for a great deal of the day. There are rituals involved, such as a period of a day where none of the people on the retreat are allowed to speak and the only speech they hear are the numerous lengthy sermons. Another ritual during the retreat is near the end when a bonfire is held. Those on the retreat are enticed to throw away physical items that remind or tie them to their sinful past. The retreat also involves a session where everyone speaks in tongues. The church believes that all people have the "gift of tongues" and everyone on the retreat will have spoken in tongues or spoken in something that resembles it. After the retreat and rituals, everyone is considered a member of the church. There are two more retreats, each for admittance into a further role in the church such as leadership and administration. Once a member of the church, the individual is considered a disciple of the person that brought them. They attend the small group of the person that brought them and are expected to continue the process by starting to pray for "their three." A small group has no more than twelve members and a pastor. Every person in the church is expected to pastor a small group and the members that attend are called "their twelve." The entire church is arranged in this hierarchical structure from the founder of the church, who's twelve original disciples make up the top twelve bishops of the church, to the three year old girl who just became a disciple of her twelve year old baby sitter. Through this system, and a special way of bestowing the title "pastor," this church can truthfully tell every prospective new member that they believe they are meant to be a “pastor”. Once a member of the church, everyone is expected to be a "pastor," by the church’s definition. This titling is empowering to many and probably is a major contributor to the whole design of their church, which is a conversion machine. The church is huge with large buildings in numerous cities.

Many of the Protestant churches give members active roles very quickly. This gives them a sense of importance that they may have never been able to feel in the Catholic Church. One of the Protestant church’s largest effects on their respective nations is from the political spectrum. During the 2002 parliamentary election in Brazil, open members of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God were elected to 18 seats in congress and a bishop of the church was elected as a senator. These individuals sought votes actively from members of the church. Many other politicians consider support from the Universal Church of God to be quite valuable. This could lead to politicians buying votes from the church. It could also lead to a decline in separation between church and state.

On a more positive side, the rise in Protestantism has obvious benefits for the social programs. An increase in active members of religious groups should positively increase the moral fiber of the country and decrease illegal activity such as violence, substance abuse, and all other forms of crime. The rise in Protestantism could also improve foreign relations for Brazil and Argentina with countries such as the United States and Great Britain that are predominately Protestant.

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